“Her Heart’s on Her Sleeve, and the Truth’s in Her Lasso”

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Yesterday I got to see my favorite comic book character on the big screen. Jessica got to see her too. And my daughters got to see a little girl like them grow up into a woman who believes in truth, love, and courage, who may make mistakes but will never let others’ mistakes or their opinions on how she should do things hold her back, and who kicks righteous ass. In the Year of Trump, I don’t have words for how much this means to me.

When Diana of Themyscira walked up onto No Man’s Land and strode across that wartorn landscape with that determination in her eyes, I was cheering, and I’m not ashamed to say it.

When she saw wounded people hurting and disinherited or enslaved and demanded the world stop for them, my heart melted and warmed.

Of all the comic book characters of my childhood and teenagerhood, Diana speaks to my heart most because she is our conscience, because she never stops believing that we can choose to be the best that we are rather than the worst, and because, as the Doubleclicks sing it, “her heart’s on her sleeve and the truth’s in her lasso.”

So I am still riding the glow from yesterday.

Other notable items from the movie:

– Badass middle-aged fighters of varying body types on Themyscira. Not an island of young wispy supermodels. That was pretty damned awesome.

– Trevor — beautifully scripted character. Highly competent, driven, confident in and humorously aware of the masculinity he’s performing, strong and true-hearted though haunted with demons, a well-written hero/spy who never overshadows Diana but whom the script-writers never shortchanged. What I loved about Trevor was he knew who he was.

– Nuance. Covert (Trevor) and overt (Diana) ways of fighting injustice and genocide get in each other’s way, but both respect each other, and … in the end … learn each other. It would have been nice to have a few more lines of dialogue to explore this, but I liked seeing that as well-handled as it was.

– Gal Gadot. Enough said. She blazed in that role.

Happy now.

Stant Litore

To Move the Hearts of 1000 Readers

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When a community of well over 100 avid readers came together to support my fiction on Patreon, it meant the world to me. Not just because it happened at a time when my family was in medical and financial crisis, but because finding such a community and kindling their hearts with stories was what I set out to do with my fiction in the first place.

I want to write stories that move people’s hearts and make them cry and give them hope when hope is hard to have. When I started publishing novels and short stories back in 2011, someone asked me what “success” would look like to me. I said, “If I move the hearts of a thousand readers, then my stories have done their work.”

Now I want to build a community of 1000 readers in my Patreon family.

Patreon is a monthly membership that allows me to keep my stories independent and keep them coming — and gives you backstage access to the stories you love!

If you’ve been moved by my books or my posts — come be a part of this! http://www.patreon.com/stantlitore. Membership dues are whatever you set: be it a dollar or two a month, or five dollars (the cost of one overpriced latte), or more. And you get the books. You get in on their development, on the early sketches for art and illustrations, and you get to read the new stories long before they are released to the public. Come join us! If I can move 1000 readers, who knows what these stories can do in the world?

Stant Litore

Hope in my Heart: What Polycarp and Sahira Remind Me

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All my characters are somewhere inside me still, inside my heart – even the evil-minded ones. But the good ones, too. Having written their stories, I hear them speak again, from time to time. When times are darkest, I am especially glad that Polycarp and Sahira are still in there. Polycarp asks his friends, when they are despairing, “What do we believe? What do we know to be true?”

I believe in love that endures.

I believe in the irreducible value of every human being.

I believe in tikkun olam: repairing the world, each day, by doing justly and by telling stories.

I believe stories have the power to change lives and to change the shape and course of the world.

I believe that stant litore puppes, that even if half the world is burned to ash, what grows in its place will still be beautiful, because renewal and resurrection and new birth is written into the rhythms of existence, and because ash is very fertile. And though the next chapter does not change what was lost, it is never the end of the story.

I believe in never giving up.

I believe in education, that ‘knowledge is our ally in the night land, our shield against terrors.’

I believe my first duty is empathy. I believe in compassion and in paraklesis: in standing by another who is vulnerable, hearing them, and advocating for them.

And when I am weary, I will reach into that place in my heart where Polycarp and Sahira still stand by me, paracletes themselves, ready to help me to my feet and kindle my heart with a story and walk with me to stand together between the one who is hurting and the one doing the hurt. I am often glad they are there.

I believe in stories. No less now than when I was seven.

Stant Litore

Art credit: The image above is an illustration of Regina, a detail from Lauren K. Cannon’s cover art for my novel What Our Eyes Have Witnessed.

Doing what I’m doing

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I am so tired of reading about kids being shot, or kids being blown up, or kids being knifed, or kids dying of things kids don’t need to die of. The same day, I hear about a black college student being murdered in the open by an ‘alt-reich’ college student, and I hear about an explosion at a concert in Manchester because some terrorist figures if you kill some kids, you’ll get attention, and I hear about yet more children starving to death as famine spreads in the Near East and sub-Saharan countries. Ain’t enough anger in the world for that shit.

Will keep doing what I’m doing:

1. Find someone to help.

2. Find someone who IS helping, and help them.

3. Tell a story – so more people want to help, and more people believe that they can.

Read a Story. Save a Life.

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I’m going to put my money where my heart is. And I want to take the stories I write and put them to work. For every copy of Rasha’s Letter sold this year, I going to give $1 to a refugee family through Humanwire—an organization that connects people with specific refugee families, each of whom has a story and a specific need—such as medicine or schooling. (You can read their stories right here: http://www.humanwire.org.)

Rasha’s Letter is a time travel thriller and a love story between a Syrian refugee fleeing war with her infant son and a shapeshifting time-traveling hijabi defender of humanity from the twenty-fifth century. It’s a story about the yearning for home, for love, peace, and hope. I make $2 when a copy sells, and I want to take half of that and put it toward funding hope for real families (the rest will go to keeping food on the table for my family). Will you help me?

Millions of people have had their homes and dreams ripped away, have had to flee things you and I can barely imagine. It doesn’t take much to make a difference for one of those families or their children, as they build new lives. This is what so many of my stories are about, and I want to do what I can to help.

Spread the word. Enjoy a good read and help save lives. It is an easy thing you can do to make a difference, and you get a book out of it, too.

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Don’t want a book? No problem—you can give directly to refugees through Humanwire here: http://www.humanwire.org

Please do!

Stant Litore

P.S. Humanwire has been making a difference since 2015, and you can read more about their work on their website or in this 2015 article in the Denver Post.

 

On Writing Diversity in SF&F

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Dear fellow SF&F authors who are conscious of social issues and diversity…

[Note: If you are a) not conscious of social issues and diversity; b) don’t care; c) only care about accurate representation of some people and not others; or d) are a Nazi, then this post is not intended for you, and it will make you growly and probably not do you or me any good.]

For the rest of us: I’d like to submit a few thoughts for our consideration.

When we are writing a novel that foregrounds marginalized people, and readers who are a member of that marginalized people reach out to us with upset at how they are being portrayed in the book, a helpful response is: “I am sorry; I didn’t realize it could have that impact. I’d like to understand this better.”

And it’s helpful if we’re sensitive to the fact that marginalized people are being asked constantly to explain (and justify or prove) their experiences, over and over and over again, and that by asking them to explain it yet once more, we’re asking for some emotional effort on their part (and their time).

It’s something we ask if we’re really genuinely serious about wanting to understand our fellow human beings better and about wanting to tell complex, riveting stories, rather than just peddle stereotypes (knowingly or unknowingly). We ask it because we want to learn. For the same reason that we ask astrophysicists and biologists and geologists all the questions we ask them, for the same reason we’re reading science updates all the time, so that we can get new ideas, challenge our current understanding of the universe in which we operate, and tell stories that do the same for our readers.

If we stop listening and learning, the stories we tell soon become flat and shriveled and empty and dead.

I really believe that.

We are storytellers because we are such avid listeners and learners that we are constantly bursting with wonder and we are driven to share the wonder with other people. We spin stories because the world is so damn cool and so damn tragic and so damn comic sometimes too, and we can’t hold it all in.

We want to tell stories that make the world bigger, not smaller.

That’s why, I hope, we wrote stories that included marginalized people in the first place, rather than just stories about straight white dudes traveling to other planets and sticking flags in the soil.

Now, as with any feedback we get, we will have to make our best judgment as to how to take that feedback, what weight to assign it, and how to learn from it for the future. People have different experiences, and we will get contradictory feedback. But it behooves us to listen openly first, and hear it.

I mean, if we can survive 591 rejection letters from editors, we can survive hearing a little feedback from people whose lives are impacted or influenced by the stories we tell, so that when we make our best judgment as storytellers, it’s a more informed best judgment than otherwise.

This is especially the case if you are hearing similar feedback from a LOT of people about the portrayal of their lives in your book. Just as if you received feedback from a whole bunch of astrophysicists who all agreed that your science was complete and total bunk, it’s worth paying attention if you’re hearing from lots of marginalized people that your work is tapping damaging stereotypes and misconceptions that you might not be aware of.

So, a helpful response is: “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it could have that impact. I want to learn more.”

Unhelpful responses include:

“I’m sorry that you’re upset.” (That’s not an apology. It’s a dismissal. It’s also a passive-aggressive invitation for matters to escalate swiftly.)

“Well, my one black [or gay, or trans, or Native] friend told me…” (Please, for the love of God, do not ever play the One Black Friend card. “One Black Friend” is not research, and going there makes you look like a shmuck. Even if your One Black Friend is Frederick Douglass back from the dead, don’t go there.)

“I am among the least racist/sexist/transphobic authors in the genre, just look at all my credentials, and I think you’ve taken it wrong.” (Not only will this make you sound like Donald J. Trump, which isn’t a good look, but it is defensive and silly and what it sounds like you are saying is: ‘I know more about your life experiences and the experience of being marginalized in the way that you’ve been marginalized than you do, and I have no need to learn anything more.’ So, whereas the One Black Friend card makes you look like a shmuck, the I Know More About Your Marginalization Than You Do card makes you look like a pretentious and arrogant shmuck.)

“I did my research. I know what I’m talking about.” (This isn’t helpful, because we’re always learning more, and because when someone says you’ve misrepresented them, that’s a learning opportunity. That is literally a new research opportunity. Don’t disrespect your readers by not taking advantage of the opportunity to listen.)

And, by the Hugos and the Nebulas and all sacred science-fictiony things, by all that you hold dear on this green earth, don’t elaborate on your “I know what I’m talking about” with: “I shared the idea for the story with all my friends [who look just like me] and they adored the idea!” That’s…not research. Really, it’s…it’s not. (And, stepping back for a moment, if your primary reaction to being challenged is a PR-focused reaction, then it’s worth pointing out that more research earlier in the process, before actually publishing the novel, might have proven helpful.)

The point is, even if you are an award-winning author, you are always learning. As storytellers, a certain humility and eagerness to listen is expected of us, by the nature of what we do. And if we aren’t interested in learning more and more about our universe and the people in it, we might be in the wrong line of work. I mean, if we’re just here to pontificate and be worshipped, we might want to try running for a position like President of the United States. It’s an easier job to get with lower entrance requirements and it pays better, too. On the other hand, if our work and craft is a matter of listening to as many stories as we can, learning as much as we can, and then passing on the stories we hear or weaving their materials into new stories, that’s hard work, and humbling work, and exciting work. Our stories have impact, because we understand our lives and our community and our world through our stories. We are the weavers of dreams, and dreams create the hopes or fears of a community. There’s no task I would rather be engaged in — but it’s also not a task to take lightly.

How I want to work: Learn, listen, then tell the best story I can. Then learn some more, listen some more, and tell an even better story.

I know of specific things I flubbed in earlier books of mine, and I don’t doubt there are some things I flubbed of which I’m currently unaware. You know what I do once I realize that’s the case? I listen, I learn as much as I can, and I try to WRITE ANOTHER, BETTER BOOK. And I will keep trying to write another, better book until I die.

Stant Litore

On “Bias,” Islamophobic Readers, and Sentient Chewing Gum

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Someone unsubscribing from my newsletter took the time to write me a note today, to say: “I’m not interested in reading biased and left leaning ‘literature.'”

Well, I never called it ‘literature,’ as that would be a mite presumptuous of me. And there was no mention of politics, none, in my email announcing the arrival of Rasha’s Letter today. So I assume that the note he sent me actually means, “I’m not interested in reading stories about Muslim time travelers who are not terrorists.” Or maybe it actually means, “I am not interested in reading science fiction about refugees.” Or, if he got as far as reading the description of the novella on Amazon, maybe it means “I don’t want to read about people who are bi.” Who knows.

Ridiculous way to limit your reading, but whatever floats your boat, sir. Seriously, I’m not going to cater to readers’ bigotries. That’s both a recipe for boredom and fundamentally a lost cause. I could write a story about sentient chewing gum (and don’t tempt me), and I am certain someone would still take political offense and find it to be ‘biased and left-leaning literature.’ So I’m just going to write what I want to write, about characters who move my heart facing challenges that move my heart.

RashasLetter_1000However: If, unlike my surly note-scribbler, the rest of you would be interested in reading Rasha’s Letter, it is live today! I am excited to give this story to you. It is one of the best and most moving I’ve written, according to some of the early readers. Part time-travel thriller, part love story: you can get it here.

For those eager for or relying on audiobooks, there will be an audiobook for you within a few weeks. It is in production as we speak!

Stant Litore

P.S. Got another of those unkind notes in my inbox, from a different reader, almost the moment I posted this. The note read: “Unsubscribe me If you’re seriously peddling this Islamic Puke I Don’t want this crap.”

Seriously, I never got this when my first Ansible stories came out, but I’ve been getting this more frequently ever since 2015, though only from my U.S. readers. What the hell has Trump and his souped-up Islamophobia done to this country?

My response was:

“You are certainly welcome to unsubscribe, Charles; there is a link to do so at the bottom of the email. I have science fiction stories told by space travelers from many parts of the world, but predominantly Christians, Jews, and Muslims. I don’t know what it is you think I am ‘peddling,’ but if you either don’t enjoy science fiction about humans exploring the universe or you want to read stories that only include particular groups of people in space exploration and not others, you are unlikely to enjoy my fiction.

Sincerely,

Stant Litore”

Having abundant time on his hands, ‘Charles’ actually wrote me back, explaining that his vision of the future is evidently more inherently genocidal than my own.

Says Charles: “I Already have a Full Library I need none of you’re drivel….Left Wingnut trying to enable Islamics…don’t the watch Star Trek or Star Wars the Islamics Don’t exist in the Future”

Says me: “What a boring future. I don’t have time to waste imagining your boring future; mine is a bit bigger in scope. I sincerely suggest you do unsubscribe, and enjoy your already full library, sir.

Stant Litore”

And the saga continues:

Charles: “Ahhh to hear the sweet Squeeling of the millenial Fascist and you have no Future Sonny you’re whole generation is screwed”

Stant: “I am not a millennial, and hardly a fascist, but if you are so bored with your current reading that you have time to flame science fiction authors over email, might I suggest you widen your reading horizons a bit?

Kindly,

Stant Litore”

Gen X’ers are easy to anger but difficult to insult, largely because we’ve already heard all the insults, about two decades ago. Charles is going to have to up his game a bit. (However, having met Charles, I can at least confirm that an encounter with sentient chewing gum is not as far-fetched as I had at first believed. — And yes, that is petty. But if you’re going to take the time to write me about how my work is “Puke” because it happens to include people you think shouldn’t exist, you will not find me in a pleasant mood.)

Anyway, I just found a note in a very different tone waiting for me, from a different reader: “I loved it. I loved the imagery, the prose, I loved the diversity, I loved the emotion behind each and every sentence. It was absolutely beautiful. It was such a wonderful read.”

I can’t write for everybody. So I write for readers like her (the reader who sent that last note), and I write for me.

Now, off to tell another story.

Stant Litore